Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Where Does the Love Go When a Relationship Dies?

Figure 1. Jackson Pollock
Figure 2. Melissa Chandon
Figure 3. Robert Avedon, William Casby, Born A Slave, 1963
Figure 4. Melissa Chandon
Figure 5, Robert Frank, The Americans, Trolley, New Orleans, 1955

“Jackson Pollock raised questions about making art."
- Kirk Varnedoe 1

Recently for lack of a better word my “man-friend” announced to me that he needs to date other people. It seems ridiculous to write about anything else right now as my life has just been turned upside down. One can wonder in the aftermath of a seven year relationship where does the love go? Is it possible that after the lust and infatuation is gone, all that is left is some trace or remembrance of a love gone by? Is a relationship with a partner similar to the relationship that an artist has with their work? We pour ourselves into many things - a daily life with a partner, the action of painting a painting, the act of creating a film if you are a film maker and so on. When we are left just looking at the painting, film or the photographs of our life as a couple and we stand back and look, one can ask themselves what are we actually seeing? What’s actually there when all that remains is the painting, film or photograph?

The act of creating a work of art is a very generous process. When you look at Jackson Pollock his work not only ricocheted art in a new direction and forever changed our understanding of the term painting, he also “got people to look at art.”2 Additionally he literally poured his entire being into each painting. In the documentary, Jackson Pollock: Love and Death on Long Island, Kirk Varnedoe, Senior Curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, said of Pollock, “the nature of the medium took over.”3 Pollock’s paintings seem very real to me. When you look at the painting you can see every movement of his body and his exploration with the physicality of the painting materials through dripping, hurling and dabbing. With Pollock’s paintings we are left with the testimony or idea of time forever frozen.

When I am left looking at a photograph of my former partner and I, there is an implied understanding of reality. The photograph is by its very nature believable. Roland Barthes author of Camera Lucidia, speaks to this very idea when he talked about Robert Avedon’s famous photograph of William Casby, Born A Slave, 1963.

“A photograph, not a drawing or engraving; for my horror and my fascination as a child came from this: that there was a certainty that such a thing had existed: not a question of exactitude, but of reality: the historian was no longer the mediator, slavery was given without mediation, and the fact was established without method.”4

I found this a jarring perception that a photograph is taken as a truth, an accurate portrayal of an event, time and place or in other words an accurate accounting of the lives of individuals. Last spring while visiting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art I was struck by this very thought when looking at Robert Frank’s photography from his Guggenheim Fellowship, The Americans. His perspective portrayed mostly the inequality of race and income discrepancies in the United States, which was one perspective but not the entire story about America of the 50’s. Yet when we look at his work we could convince ourselves that there was only suffering, injustice and mean-spiritness. When I looked back at some of the most recent photographs of my partner we actually looked happy. By looking at the images one could say, wow, what a happy couple, without guessing that in just a few short weeks the relationship would be over. Edward Casey offers an interesting perspective on memory, and the mark of a photograph.

“Let me start with the following paradox, one that arises from the very idea of trace: what seems at first exceedingly limited in scope and secondary in status is capable of drawing together the most divergent realms of human experience and theories about the experience. On the one hand, the ordinary notion of trace is that of a mere mark left by an entry or an event of which it is but the finite and fragile reflection. Its nature seems to consist in a self-serving operation whereby its meaning or value lies elsewhere – namely, in that of which it is the trace, that which the trace signifies by a self-suspension of its own being or happening. On the other hand, despite this apparent disposability, the concept of the trace has proven indispensible in several quite disparate domains: the neurophysiology of memory, the graphematics of writing, and the overcoming of metaphysics.”5

I’m surprised our relationship ended. I just kept thinking that we - I - could work this out. I guess looking back I did have a couple of clues – needless to say, I am disappointed by the outcome. For me it probably makes it easier that we didn’t live together. Why is it that now that I'm single again I'm back going to the gym daily - kick boxing and yoga are my latest loves.
When I was young, frustrated by the loss of a boyfriend, or the end of an era, only left with the unknown future, my mother would try to console me with a little poem: “Life is like a butterfly. The more you chase it the more it eludes you but if you turn your attention to other things it rests peacefully on your shoulder.” For me this is what art is all about. We dive into the process of creating, we are consumed by the act and when it is completed we are left with a testimony of our humanity.

1. Jackson Pollock: Love and Death on Long Island (1999) Director: Teresa Griffiths
2. Jackson Pollock: Love and Death on Long Island (1999) Director: Teresa Griffiths
3. Kirk Varnedoe. Jackson Pollock: Love and Death on Long Island (1999) Director: Teresa Griffiths
4. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucidia Reflections on Photography, Hill and Wang, 1981
5. Edward Casey, Levinas on Memory and the Trace